Bush to ask for $48 billion more in military spending in federal budget proposal

President promises not to `cut corners'

deficits are predicted

January 24, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - President Bush said yesterday he would seek $48 billion in additional spending on the military next year, a wartime increase that will be the centerpiece of the budget proposal he sends to Congress next month.

The request, which was larger than even some Pentagon officials had expected and the biggest since the Reagan-era military buildup, illustrated what administration officials said would be a focus by the president on two basic themes as he sets his agenda for the coming year: doing whatever it takes to win the war against terrorism at home and abroad and reviving the economy.

It came as Congress began its annual budget debate with a report from the Congressional Budget Office showing that the projected surplus for the next decade had dwindled to $1.6 trillion from $5.6 trillion a year ago and $3.4 trillion last summer.

The report renewed the partisan debate over whether the $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut Bush pushed through Congress last year over opposition from most Democrats had left the nation short of money to address current needs and the long-run costs of paying Social Security and Medicare benefits to a rapidly aging population.

The budget office said the government would run deficits this year and next even in the unlikely event that Congress does not increase spending or cut taxes. And it said there does not appear to be any realistic hope of paying off the national debt within this decade, as both parties had pledged to do as recently as a year ago.

Administration officials forecast a deficit this year of $106 billion in the $2 trillion federal budget, followed by a deficit next year of $80 billion.

They said Bush's plan would call for outright cuts in some domestic programs, and would hold overall increases in spending aside from national security to very low levels. The president's budget, which will be sent to Capitol Hill on Feb. 4, would call for doubling spending on domestic security programs to more than $25 billion next year, the officials said, and would set aside $90 billion in the current fiscal year and $75 billion next year for an economic recovery package built around tax cuts for individuals and businesses.

Bush acknowledged that the increase for the Pentagon "may put a strain on the budget."

He called the increase necessary to continue the fight against terrorists and protect the United States from attacks.

"We will not cut corners when it comes to the defense of our great land," Bush said in a speech to the Reserve Officers Association at the Washington Hilton Hotel.

Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., the White House budget director, said Bush was seeking $38 billion in additional funding for the Pentagon on top of the $328 billion Congress authorized for the current fiscal year, an increase of 11.6 percent.

Daniels said Bush also wants Congress to authorize a $10 billion reserve fund that he could draw on if necessary to pay the operational costs of the war next year. Congress has already appropriated $17 billion for that purpose this year, and the administration has signaled that it is likely to ask for more to carry it through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The administration set out the big themes of its budget plan as Congress reconvened yesterday and plunged immediately back into the politics of the budget and the economy.

Although the administration linked its Pentagon spending increase to the war, the additional money Bush is seeking would not go so much to the direct operating costs of the conflict in Afghanistan and other places around the world as to beefing up the nation's military more generally.

Administration officials said the increase would cover needs ranging from increased pay and improved housing, to increasing the readiness of the armed forces to fight, and beginning to achieve Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's goal of creating a more flexible military with fewer bases and a new generation of weaponry.

In his remarks to the reserve officers, Bush cast the defense buildup as nothing less than his primary responsibility.

"There will be no room for misunderstanding," he said. "The most basic commitment of our government will be the security of our country."

Bush said the increased spending would pay for salary increases, precision weapons, unpiloted aircraft and high-tech battlefield communications equipment, among other needs.

"The tools of modern warfare are effective," Bush said to an enthusiastic crowd. "They are expensive. But in order to win this war against terror, they are essential."

A large portion of the new spending would go toward procurement of such big-ticket items as warships, tanks and fighter jets, Pentagon officials said.

"We've been living off the fat of the land," said Susan Hansen, a Pentagon spokeswoman. "This budget is to address the needs for those pieces of equipment."

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